OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | TeamWise: Crew Trace Systems
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TeamWise: Crew Trace Systems

Naval vessels operated by the US Military can stretch to lengths of over a thousand feet and are comparable to the height of a twenty-story building. It’s no surprise then that these ships are manned by a crew of thousands. With so many sailors to manage, how can Naval officers make sure their crew is always accounted for?

That’s where Crew Trace Systems comes in. Co-founders Sean Ublacker and Dean Meredith are using wearable RFID checkpoint technology to track sailors as they move into different compartments aboard their ship. If any sailor is unaccounted for at any time, officers can quickly check their last scanned location.

Sean, a graduate of the Naval Academy with a degree in Qualitative Economics, went on to earn his MBA from Rice University. Dean obtained his Bachelors in Marketing at Syracuse University then went on to join the Marine Corps, where he worked as a Combat Engineer Officer. Dean later earned his MBA from Rice University.

The idea was inspired back in 2013 when Dean was stationed on the Marine vessel USS Kearsarge. The crew often conducted practice emergency drills, which included a count of all sailors onboard. During one of these drills, one of Dean’s crew members went unaccounted for, prompting a widespread search of the ship and preparation for a water rescue. After searching the ship for almost an hour, the missing sailor was found asleep in his bed with his curtains drawn and headphones on.

“We really thought that he could have fallen overboard into the water. Afterward, I thought to myself, ’why can’t I figure out where one of my Marines is on a ship full of 2,200 people? Why don’t I have a way to find him quickly?,” he questioned. It wasn’t long after that he got the idea for a tracking system similar to EZ-Pass, “If we can track a car going on the highway at sixty miles per hour under a gateway, why can’t we track movements from compartment to compartment on a ship?”

Through OwlSpark, Sean and Dean met with mentors who helped them construct a roadmap for their company’s future. “When Dean and I came in, we kept thinking about how we needed a prototype and technical people to join our team. Through talking with the mentors, though, we realized that what would benefit us right now is to understand our customer so that we can craft a solid, precise value proposition,” Sean explained.

The next step towards military adoption is securing a loan through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a government-funded initiative for small businesses to conduct research and development. Their biggest challenge has been prioritizing efforts and milestones and setting realistic timelines. “Our work right now is more varied than it is concrete, which can make not losing sight of the end goal difficult sometimes,” Dean said.

When not working on Crew Trace Systems, Sean enjoys going to the gym to lift weights and smoking BBQ meats, including ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. Dean, on the other hand, enjoys riding his BMW 1250 GS sports bike, researching technology, and learning about ancient history.